You may have heard that electric cars are capable of amazing feats of quick acceleration.
At least in acceleration, not top speed.
It’s all because of torque, or the amount of rotational force in the car’s wheels.
Here’s why Electric Cars have more Torque:
Electric cars have superior torque to gas-powered cars—they turn their stored energy into speed quicker than gas-powered cars convert fuel into acceleration. Electric motors put their full force into action in an instant, while gas-powered cars turn fuel into force by a slower mechanical process.
Do Electric Cars get more Torque than Gas-Driven Cars in the Same Price Range?
Only top-tier sports cars can compete with electric cars when it comes to torque—that’s how quickly EVs get power to their wheels. The typical electric car will outpace a gas-powered car at the same price point nearly every time.
To put this in perspective, if you put a Tesla Roadster up against a fully trimmed-out Porsche 918 Spyder to see how quickly each one got from 0 to 60 miles per hour, the Tesla would win. Both cars go for roughly 200k.
This chart compares the torque you’ll get from gas-powered and electric cars at three different price points.
For cars, torque is measured by the pound-foot, which is a pound of force exerted one foot away from a certain point.
|Price||Electric Vehicle Torque||Gas-Powered Vehicle Torque|
|$19,000||236 to 250 pounds-feet (Nissan Leaf)||94 pounds-feet (Chevrolet Spark)|
|$47,000||302-389 pounds-feet (Tesla Model 3)||171-295 pounds-feet (2021 Jeep Cherokee)|
|$2.0 million||1254 pounds-feet (Lotus Evija)||509 pounds-feet (Lamborghini Centenario)|
How Much More Torque do you get with an Electric Car?
With an electric car, you have access to all the torque the car has to offer as soon as you hit the gas pedal. On top of that, they offer a higher maximum torque than gas-powered cars.
If you look at how much torque a gas-powered car can generate on average, from the fastest sports cars to the most basic commuter cars, you’ll get a range of anywhere between 100 and 400 pounds-feet.
The Tesla Model 3 already rivals the upper end of the range of all gas-powered cars at 300+ pounds-feet.
Other popular electric cars, like the Polestar 2, exceed this range at 243-287 pounds-feet.
Even the humble Chevy Spark EV, a cheap, no-frills subcompact, has more torque than most gas-powered cars at 243 pound-feet of torque.
Another factor that improves the acceleration of electric cars is their low weight when compared to gas-powered cars. Though the batteries are heavy, engine blocks, crankshafts, radiators, and so on weigh a lot more than just a battery and an electric motor.
Electric cars’ lower weight isn’t strictly the same thing as having more torque, but it is a big factor in their superior acceleration.
Gas-powered cars have a complicated, drawn-out process that takes place whenever the engine turns its rotations into torque, and there are far more steps than with an electric motor.
They turn combustion into motion through a set of controlled explosions inside pistons.
This turns a flywheel and a crankshaft, then goes through the transmission, eventually turning the wheels.
The takeaway here is that electric cars can muster more torque because of their simplicity compared to combustion engines, giving them significantly more torque than most gas-powered cars on average. Electric vehicles’ comparatively low weight also gives them an edge in the acceleration department.
Do Electric Cars Have More Torque than Diesel-Powered Cars?
Diesel-powered cars have more torque than their gasoline-powered cousins, but they still don’t outperform electric cars torque-wise.
After all, diesel-based vehicles have a similar mechanical setup to gas-powered cars, which makes them slower to accelerate than electric motors for the same reasons that gas-powered cars are.
Any combustion engine has a hard time competing with an electric motor when it comes to delivering instantaneous power to the wheels.
An electric car’s components and design are relatively simple: an EV’s design boils down to a battery setup and an electric motor that turns the axle of the drive wheels.
Diesel engine vehicles, like gasoline-powered vehicles, get their forward motion from a series of controlled explosions inside the pistons that have to be translated into forward momentum by a complex mechanical process that starts with the flywheel and crankshaft, moves to the transmission, then to the driveshaft and through to the wheels.
Diesel engines have a different fuel injection process than gas engines and they use fuel more efficiently, turning more of it into rotational force and wasting less of it.
Both of these factors give them an edge over gas-powered vehicles and make them ideal for hauling heavy loads and performing tasks that require lots of torque.
However, these advantages aren’t anywhere near enough to give them more torque than an electric vehicle.
There’s simply too much resistance involved in the multi-step mechanical process that makes a combustion engine work.
Why do Electric Cars Have More Torque?
Electric motors are a more direct, efficient way of turning stored energy into a forward movement—an electric motor simply has to receive a signal through a circuit and it’s already fully engaged. No matter what speed the EV is going, the wheels have the same amount of torque applied to them.
Gas-powered engines have to go through a series of mechanical steps in order to concentrate enough torque to get the car moving.
That’s where the transmission comes in.
The big roadblock that stands in the way of gas-powered engines turning their controlled combustion into forward motion is the transmission, which has a lot of moving parts that have to spring into action before the car’s wheels get turning. A gas-powered engine won’t maintain the same level of torque the whole time it’s operating.
The purpose of a transmission is to concentrate the engine’s power into torque, or rotational force in the wheels, rather than speed.
If the engine’s full force wasn’t concentrated on just getting the wheels turning, the engine would have a hard time getting up to speed.
Though a few electric cars have gears and transmissions, electric cars generally don’t have transmissions, so they don’t have the extra step involved in transferring power from the engine to the wheels that the transmission brings.
If gas-powered cars didn’t have transmissions, they’d have trouble accelerating as quickly as we’re now used to seeing, and they’d encounter difficulty as soon as they had to move uphill or pull a heavy load.
You’ve probably seen a train start moving from a standstill—that’s what it would look like when a car with no transmission started to move.
Modern locomotives have transmissions, but the example still shows how engines have to overcome lots of inertia when they’re getting up to speed, especially if there’s a big load attached to them.
Why do Electric Cars Have INSTANT Torque?
Electric cars have instant torque because electric motors can almost instantly start moving at a certain speed with a desired force at the push of a button. They can do this because electric motors work by current being turned directly into motion in a single step, not through a mechanical process with lots of moving parts whose inertia has to be overcome.
Here’s an electric motor’s basic principle: it converts electric current into kinetic energy.
An electric motor works by creating a magnetic field by putting an electric current through a coil. The resulting magnetic field spins a magnet, creating a rotational force.
Modern electric motor designs have perfected this rudimentary concept and created ultra-efficient and responsive versions of it.
There are no long, drawn-out, interlocking mechanical processes here—just an electric current flowing through a cable.
Do Electric Cars Have Unlimited Torque?
While electric cars can access their maximum torque capacity immediately, unlike gas-powered cars, they do face limitations at high speeds due to a phenomenon called “back-EMF“.
Back-EMF is the name for a drop-off in torque that occurs in electric motors at high speeds.
It’s caused by the magnetic field in the motor reducing the amount of current that’s able to power the motor.
What this means in concrete terms is that once an electric car reaches a high speed, it no longer has the near-instantaneous torque capacity that it has when getting started from a full stop.
This is why electric cars are quickly outpaced by gas-powered cars in racing competitions that last more than several seconds.
Recent electric vehicle designs have implemented a transmission that kicks in at high speeds in order to combat this problem, allocating torque more efficiently.
How Much Torque do High-End Electric Cars Have?
Mid-market electric cars already outpace gas-powered cars in terms of torque, so high-end electric cars completely blow them out of the water.
The chart below shows a few examples of high-end electric cars and their maximum torque.
|Tesla Model Y||375 pounds-feet of torque|
|Volvo C40 Recharge||486 pounds-feet of torque|
|BMW i4||317-586 pounds-feet of torque|
|Jaguar I-PACE||510 pounds-feet of torque|
Do Hybrid Cars Have Instant Torque?
Hybrids have electric motors, so they’re equipped with instant torque.
They’ve got the best of both worlds when it comes to getting up to speed quickly and being able to maintain that speed.
If you’re starting your hybrid from a complete standstill, the electric motor will engage, not the combustion engine—an electric engine is far better at bringing the car up to speed.
Once you reach continuous high speeds, however, the combustion engine will be the more efficient option.
Electric motors aren’t capable of reaching and maintaining the high speeds that combustion engines are capable of, and they don’t use their power source as efficiently when moving that fast, so the combustion engine plays a vital role in a hybrid car.
While electric vehicles certainly have gas-powered ones beaten in the torque department, gas-powered vehicles still have the edge on EVs in maximum speed and overall usefulness.
In the long term, electric car companies are poised to completely replace gas-powered cars for environmental reasons.
It’s also in their interest to come up with an EV design that’s superior to gas-powered cars in every other way.
The fact is that the goal of electric car superiority is still a ways ahead, with gasoline engines still able to handily beat out electric engines’ maximum speed. This makes gas-powered engines still necessary for law enforcement applications, for example.
However, EVs can claim the impressive feat of having faster acceleration than any gas-powered engine, which is why modern ultra-high-quality hypercars, which try to be as fast as possible, are sometimes equipped with electric engines to give them raw acceleration power.